Ed Hellwig, Executive Editor
Anyone with kids knows that, like 'em or not, minivans rule when it comes to versatility and convenience. The minivan's status as the ultimate family-hauler has made this segment one of the most hotly contested markets in the industry. The Honda Odyssey, for instance, is so popular that even after three years on the market, there are still waiting lists full of customers willing to pay sticker price or above just to get one. Great for Honda, but not so great for young families who need a minivan but can't afford the Odyssey's often inflated price.
Enter the all-new Kia Sedona. With a base price of just $18,995 for the standard LX model and $20,995 for the more upscale EX, Kia's first minivan will be the lowest priced van in America when it goes on sale in August. Even loaded up with every available option, the Sedona tops out at just $24,100.
Of course, any automaker can build an inexpensive minivan. Kia's goal is to offer a low-priced minivan that still offers all the features that buyers have come to expect. "We want consumers to be able to go into a dealer and get a nicely equipped minivan no matter what level of trim or options they choose," said Randy Maurstad, Kia's Director of Product Planning, at a recent press introduction. Take one look at the Sedona's standard equipment list, and it's plain to see that Kia stuck to its goal of providing maximum value.
All Sedonas come standard with a 3.5-liter V6 rated at 195 horsepower. That's equivalent to the Odyssey's engine in size but with slightly less power than the Honda's 210 ponies. The transmission is an electronically controlled five-speed automatic, a first in the minivan segment. Kia engineers liked the idea of providing a wider range of gearing that would deliver strong acceleration at slower speeds and still provide a tall overdrive gear for quiet and efficient highway cruising. EPA mileage estimates are 15 in the city and 20 on the highway.
Inside, the Sedona's standard features include front and rear air conditioning, power windows and door locks, a tilt steering wheel, cruise control, a six-speaker AM/FM/cassette stereo, and auto on/off headlights. There's seating for seven on both trim levels, with the base LX getting a second-row bench seat, while the EX gets individual captain's chairs. All second- and third-row seats in the Sedona can be adjusted fore and aft, reclined or completely removed for a total of 127 cubic feet of cargo space. EX models feature an eight-way power adjustable driver seat with power lumbar support and a four-way adjustable power passenger seat.
Exterior upgrades on EX models include body-color mirrors and door handles, fog lamps, bright aluminum wheels and a body-color roof rack. Inside, the Sedona EX comes standard with wood-grain interior trim, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, an overhead console with trip computer, keyless entry, a six speaker AM/FM/cassette/CD stereo, power rear quarter-windows and tilt adjustable front-row headrests.
The Sedona's extensive standard feature list results in few available options. ABS brakes are a $595 option on all Sedonas. LX models can be upgraded with the CD stereo and body-color roof rack, which come standard on the EX, as well as a rear spoiler. EX buyers can choose to add full leather upholstery, a sunroof, two-tone interior trim, the HomeLink garage door opening system and a rear spoiler.
Attention to detail is evident throughout the cabin as the Sedona is absolutely littered with storage compartments, power outlets and cupholders. There are dual gloveboxes, a felt-lined storage compartment on top of the dashboard, multiple door bins and even a pullout storage compartment underneath the front passenger seat. There are power outlets in the dash, third-row seating, cargo area and no fewer than eight cupholders (12 on EX models). Reading lights and grab handles are also standard for all outboard passengers in the second and third rows.
During our introductory test-drive, we found the Sedona to be a comfortable and quiet cruiser with very little road, engine or wind noise. We were a little disappointed in the off-the-line performance of the V6 engine, but once underway there was adequate passing power, and the delivery was noticeably smooth. The rack-and-pinion steering provided a solid feel for the road, but it might seem a little heavy for those used to the overly boosted systems typical in many minivans.
The front seats sit high for an excellent view of the road, and the extensive power adjustments on the EX model made finding a comfortable position easy. The dash-mounted transmission lever looks a bit odd, but for overall convenience and ease of use, it's hard to beat. More praise goes to the overall design and look of the Sedona's dashboard controls. With four simple dials controlling all the climate control functions and a well-placed radio with large, easy-to-read buttons, the Sedona's dash design is one of the best setups we've seen in any minivan regardless of price.
Not all was perfect in the Sedona, however. Certain features that we found indispensable during our recent minivan comparison test were noticeably absent. For starters, side airbags are not an option, although Kia representatives said that they are confident that the Sedona will receive five-star ratings in all categories when it is eventually crash-tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Another missing element is a disappearing third-row seat. Sure, the Sedona's seats are removable, but with a typical seat weighing from 40 to 50 pounds, the thought of having to drag one out and store it somewhere just to get a little extra room will cause most moms not to bother, significantly reducing the seats' true functionality. Also absent are power sliding doors, although we found the Sedona's manual doors extremely light and easy to open and close.
Other notable features available on other minivans but not on the Sedona: a reverse sensing system, an on-board entertainment system, traction control, a navigation system, rear audio controls, integrated child seats and stability control.
But then again, the vans that come with features like that also carry price tags that can easily top $30,000. Not to mention that none of Sedona's competitors can match Kia's Long Haul warranty that provides 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain protection, a 5-year/60,000-mile basic warranty, and a 5-year/unlimited mileage roadside assistance program.
All in all, we would have to say that our first drive of Kia's first minivan left us impressed. It combines a nicely styled exterior, V6 power and a well-designed interior with seven-passenger seating and plenty of standard features. Factor in the Sedona's extremely low sticker price and extensive warranty protection, and it's hard to imagine the Sedona becoming anything but a big success for Kia.
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